"I was a tough kid," recalls Ming-Na Wen of her childhood as an immigrant in the United States
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Ming Na Wen
Ming-Na Wen
| Credit: Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Ming-Na Wen can still remember when, at 7-years-old, she moved to the United States from Hong Kong, not knowing anyone or speaking the language.

"I didn't even know what the Pledge of Allegiance was, and having a very Chinese name didn't help either," the actress, who currently stars in The Book of Boba Fett, the spinoff of the Disney+ hit series, The Mandalorian, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I always felt like a foreigner. It was tough. But I was a tough kid."

Indeed, thanks in large part to her headstrong mother Lin Chan — "she didn't take s— from anybody" — Wen felt empowered. "I learned to stand up for myself."

Acting soon became a creative outlet and "something that got me out of being who I was," says Wen.

"I remember being in an Easter play in third grade and I tripped and fell," she recalls. "People were laughing because they thought I did it on purpose. I loved the response and that was my first experience of being accepted in a way."

Ming Na Wen
Ming-Na Wen on "The Book of Boba Fett"
| Credit: Disney+

Later in life, Wen would go on to become the first Asian American series regular on As The World Turns, which was followed by memorable roles in The Joy Luck Club, ER and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

"I was fearless, just making decisions based on what I wanted," explains the actress. "Sometimes ignorance is bliss."

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Ming Na Wen
Ming-Na Wen in her early years
| Credit: Ming Na Wen Instagram

When it came to finding the right roles, Wen — who is mom to Michaela, 21, and Cooper, 16, with her husband, actor Eric Zee — "always sought out non-traditional parts that weren't necessarily written for Asians," she says.

"There were not a lot of offers for us in Hollywood," she notes. "And it will always be a struggle, but we'll keep pounding the pavement and making sure it's easier for the next generation."

Ming Na Wen
Ming-Na Wen with her kids
| Credit: Jesse Grant/Getty

For more on Wen's childhood and rise to fame, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

For now, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, Wen is relishing the moment in her role as Fennec Shand, a mercenary who works alongside Boba Fett.

"I've been geeking out over everything," she says. "It's a bit surreal actually. My childhood fantasy became my reality."